Congestion in North Europe’s major ports will reach “critical” levels over the next four weeks as container terminals struggle to turnaround ships embroiled in the six-day Suez Canal closure and shipping lines are expecting that many services will miss one to two sailings, which will negatively impact capacity in the second quarter.

Availability of container equipment at China’s export hubs could well decline sharply in mid-April and on into May, with the most popular 40’ boxes in short supply, which raises the potential for another rate spike out of China, where prices are already at elevated levels.

The situation is affecting the largest ports such as Rotterdam, Southampton, and Felixstowe, while there are manageable delays in Scandinavia, with impacts rippling out to smaller ports.

As the investigation into the grounding of the Ever Given in the Suez Canal continues, the vessel’s owner has declared General Average in a bid to cover salvage costs, which means that shippers with cargo on the Ever Given could be in for a long wait for it to be released.

It will take time to calculate the cost to the owners, which means the adjustors remain unable to fix the level of the general average, deposit and salvage securities.

Shippers with insured goods will have those deposits covered by their insurers, while shippers with uninsured cargo may be subject to lien until the deposit is paid.

With almost 20 weekly container shipping services on the Asia-Europe trade, recovering the lost schedules and limiting delays is a major task, with most lines working not to lose voyages.

We are expecting them to try everything, including offloading cargo and turning around early, speeding vessels up, rerouting ships, omitting ports or changing port rotations to avoid congested ports, particularly if they need to look at alternatives to Rotterdam or the UK ports.

Some lines have started taking online bookings again, while others have stopped, although we expect that any booking acceptance will be determined by port and equipment availability.

We are hopeful there will not be sustained impact on UK port performance, but shippers should expect delays and equipment shortages at Asian ports to continue, because we missed two weeks getting equipment back.